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Gay Seattle clergywoman ‘comes out’ during worship

By Lynne Bevan DeMichele*
Oct. 10, 2007 | SEATTLE (UMNS)

An associate pastor says she disclosed her homosexuality during a recent Sunday morning worship service "to share with the congregation part of my faith journey and how I've experienced God's grace."

The Rev. Kathleen Weber shared her story during the Sept. 30 service at Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church, where she has been on staff the past four years. She is a commissioned candidate for ministry in The United Methodist Church and is on track to be ordained next year.

Members of Blaine Memorial, a 700-member Asian-American church in downtown Seattle, listened silently as Weber described how she came to realize she was homosexual. Her testimony was a personal illustration for senior pastor the Rev. David Nieda's sermon series called "Into the Ring," an exploration of how the Holy Spirit leads in the midst of controversy.

"Every time we get around these (contentious) issues, we feel we have to take sides and put on the gloves, looking at those on the other side as opponents. I wanted to say there is room for dialogue, for stretching and growing," Nieda told United Methodist News Service later.

After the service, members of the congregation surrounded Weber, filling the chancel and aisles in a traditional "laying on of hands" ritual as they prayed for her and the church.

"Sunday, they shared their love and support and care for me," Weber said in an interview with United Methodist News Service. "They're a great faith community."

Discussion and disclosure

The Rev. Elaine Stanovsky, Seattle District superintendent, said Weber's comments to the congregation culminated weeks of dialogue in "concentric circles" of the church that included herself, the church administrative board and other key church leaders. Stanovsky also notified Bishop Edward W. Paup of the planned disclosure.

"I worked with her to help her clarify her intention and to ensure her own health and well-being and the health and well-being of the congregation," Stanovsky said.

The United Methodist Church, while affirming that both homosexuals and heterosexuals are people of "sacred worth," does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers the practice "incompatible with Christian teaching," according to the Book of Discipline, the denomination's book of law. Church law specifically prohibits the appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" as clergy.

“I'm not aware of anything that could be considered chargeable. There is no church law against same-gender orientation or disclosing same-gender orientation.”–The Rev. Elaine Stanovsky, district superintendent

Stanovsky attended the Sept. 30 service and said "what happened was profound, courageous and an intimate sharing of faith experience and Gospel teaching by both Rev. Nieda and Rev. Weber. It was not a discussion of church law or sexual practice."

The district superintendent said no complaints or charges have been filed against Weber and that she has no plans to launch a disciplinary process. "I'm not aware of anything that could be considered chargeable," she said. "There is no church law against same-gender orientation or disclosing same-gender orientation."

Asked if she had questioned whether Weber is in a homosexual relationship, Stanovsky answered that her conversations with pastors in her district fall into pastor-parishioner privilege and that she treats them with "utmost confidentiality."

She affirmed Weber's pastoral work. "I have no concerns about Kathleen's ministry. I have no reason to look for trouble in her ministry. She's consistently affirmed by her local church. She hasn't broken a church law," Stanovsky said.

"Kathleen Weber told a story about God's gracious action in her life, a new awareness of God's call and grace that occurred. … Part of that story included her awareness of same-gender orientation."

Hot button issue

In recent years, the Seattle District has been a hub of emotional discussion and often divisive debate about homosexuality and the church, including gays in the clergy.

In 2001, the Rev. Karen Dammann notified Bishop Elias Galvan, now retired, that she was a lesbian in a covenant relationship with another woman. That same year, the Rev. Mark Williams, who replaced Dammann as pastor at Seattle's Woodland Park United Methodist Church, announced that he was a practicing gay man. Both were accused of breaking church law but, in 2002, the church dismissed the case against Williams for insufficient evidence and, in 2004, Dammann was acquitted in a church trial.

Weber, 34, is a 2003 graduate of United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. She came to Seattle as a student missionary and joined the staff at historic Blaine Memorial, where she serves as associate pastor of children and youth. She was commissioned in 2005.

“I want folks to know I'm committed to The United Methodist Church and to my congregation, and that I'm continuing to try to be faithful to my own calling and who God created me to be.”
–The Rev. Kathleen Weber

Nieda, who has led Blaine Memorial for the past nine years, said the congregation is "overwhelmingly supportive" of Weber and that the members' reaction following Weber's disclosure "affirmed what I'd hoped was the essential character of the congregation … that this idea that we're one body under the banner of Christ will rise to the surface."

Church member Barbara Nagaoka called it "a very moving service." She said church leaders were braced for possible negative reactions and held a forum following the worship service, but that "members of the church continued to be supportive."

Shig Nishida, chairperson of Blaine's administrative board, acknowledged the issue of homosexuality has been a contentious one throughout the denomination but said it has not been at Blaine Memorial. "I think our church is stable and strong enough to handle adversity. We're not straying from Methodist doctrine. … Everybody knows (Weber) and the work she's done here. She's been very good for our church."

In her interview with United Methodist News Service, Weber declined to answer questions about whether she is a practicing homosexual, but instead affirmed her passion for mission and outreach and her commitment to the ministry.

"I want folks to know I'm committed to The United Methodist Church and to my congregation, and that I'm continuing to try to be faithful to my own calling and who God created me to be," Weber said.

*DeMichele is a freelance writer for United Methodist News Service and resides in Gig Harbor, Wash.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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